Case Study: Restaurant’s Major Discounts for Foursquare ‘Mayor’

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When Amelia Sawyer and her husband Jonathon jumped on the Foursquare bandwagon, they had no idea what an impact location-based services would have on their bottom line. Years later, customers are “fighting to the death” to become mayor of the Greenhouse Tavern – both for the bragging rights and to take advantage of the 40% discount – making it one of the most sought-after mayorships in Cleveland.

How did your involvement with Foursquare begin?
I think our whole social media branding at the Tavern all probably stems from me being a blogger for the past six years and already having knowledge of different kinds of social media. [Sawyer writes Chef’s Widow, a popular blog for foodies in Cleveland.] Obviously, when I started blogging there wasn’t Twitter or Foursquare. But as my blog grew and grew, I looked into those kinds of things as they came out. So, when we opened the restaurant we marketed heavily with social media. That eventually opened the door to Foursquare.

When Foursquare was created I jumped on the bandwagon for my blog and then thought, “Why am I not using this for the restaurant?” I think we were the first restaurant in Cleveland to use Foursquare and to offer a discount for mayorship and check-ins. Then it just blew up, because Cleveland is pretty heavy on social media and once one thing happens in social media with the restaurants it’s like wildfire. Once it got out that we were using Foursquare and we were offering our employee discount to the mayor, it was just a battle. Last summer was crazy. People were like fighting to the death online. It was crazy. So, it was an organic process of, as a blogger, moving into marketing for my restaurant and into location-based services.

How did you decide what the mayor discount should be?
My husband Jon and I are big fans of our customers and we know that we wouldn’t have a restaurant without them, obviously. So, we wanted to treat someone who came to our restaurant as many times as the mayor would with the same kind of gift we give to our employees for working for us and being awesome and being a great part of the team. A couple of our mayors from the past have become part of the family. We know each other now. Our old mayor, Joe, was one of the first mayors and he really spearheaded the Greenhouse Tavern battle for the title of mayor. He comes here constantly and everyone knows him, we know him. If someone is taking the time to come to our restaurant, check-in, and promote us; I mean, a friend is promoting us online by coming in and checking in. So, if someone is taking that time, I think either go big or don’t do it at all. You know, why give them a 5 percent discount? That’s like pennies. Why not offer something awesome?

Once it got out that we were using Foursquare and we were offering our employee discount to the mayor, it was just a battle. Last summer was crazy. People were like fighting to the death online.

Do you use any of the tools that Foursquare provides, like the merchants’ dashboard?
You know what, I tried to last year and I didn’t get the greatest response from it. I have been trying to change our special for a while because we’re opening another restaurant and I want to incorporate the two for check-ins, but I haven’t been able to successfully. So, I don’t know if I’m just not doing it right, but we don’t use it.

Besides making the dashboard more user-friendly, is there anything else you’d change about Foursquare?
That would be my big thing. I would like Foursquare – as an owner of a business who uses it – to be a bit more approachable. I have an assistant brand manager at the restaurant and while we’re opening the new restaurant, she’s taken over all of the accounts for me. I’d like her to be able to slide in and be able to do things on her own and make it more approachable. It [should be] easy for someone who isn’t a techie to use. Other than that, I think it’s great.

Have you had any difficulty teaching your staff about Foursquare and redeeming the discounts?
No. We have weekly meetings with our staff, our server, our managers and everyone. I’d say 90 to 95 percent of our staff is heavily involved in social media, so it wasn’t hard to explain. But when we started using Foursquare, I think the first week it was like, “Huh, who what?” and people would be calling me at midnight on a Friday saying, “Some guy says he’s a mayor?” But after the initial few weeks of using it, it was okay. Now our mayorship is so heavy that the mayor doesn’t change weekly. The mayor stays the same for a month, two months, or three months. I think our last one in there was a six-month mayor.

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Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.